Branka Arsic shows that Thoreau developed a theory of vitalism in response to his brother’s death. Through grieving, he came to see life as a generative force into which everything dissolves and reemerges. This reinterpretation, based on sources overlooked by critics, explains many of Thoreau’s more idiosyncratic habits and obsessions.
This book argues that there are constitutive links between early twentieth-century German and French film theory and practice, on the one hand, and vitalist conceptions of life in biology and philosophy, on the other. By considering classical film-theoretical texts and their filmic objects in the light of vitalist ideas percolating in scientific and philosophical texts of the time, Cinematic Vitalism reveals the formation of a modernist, experimental and cinematic strand of vitalism in and around the movie theater. The book focuses on the key concepts including rhythm, environment, mood, and development to show how the cinematic vitalism articulated by film theorists and filmmakers maps out connections among human beings, milieus, and technologies that continue to structure our understanding of film.
Attempts to distinguish a science of life at the turn of the nineteenth century faced a number of challenges. A central difficulty was clearly demarcating the living from the nonliving experimentally and conceptually. The more closely the boundaries between organic and inorganic phenomena were examined, the more they expanded and thwarted any clear delineation. Experimenting at the Boundaries of Life traces the debates surrounding the first articulations of a science of life in a variety of texts and practices centered on German contexts. Joan Steigerwald examines the experiments on the processes of organic vitality, such as excitability and generation, undertaken across the fields of natural history, physiology, physics and chemistry. She highlights the sophisticated reflections on the problem of experimenting on living beings by investigators, and relates these epistemic concerns directly to the philosophies of nature of Kant and Schelling. Her book skillfully ties these epistemic reflections to arguments by the Romantic writers Novalis and Goethe for the aesthetic aspects of inquiries into the living world and the figurative languages in which understandings of nature were expressed.
Gilles Deleuze is widely regarded as one of the major postwar proponents of Nietzschean thought in continental philosophy. Over a period of forty years, he presented what amounts to a philosophy of vitalism and multiplicity, bringing together concepts from thinkers as diverse as Nietzsche and Hume.
In the first comprehensive English-language introduction to Deleuze, John Marks offers a lucid reading of a complex, abstract and often perplexing body of work. Marks examines Deleuze’s philosophical writings – as well as the political and aesthetic preoccupations which underpinned his thinking – and provides a rigorous and illuminating reading of Deleuze’s early studies of Hume, Nietzsche, Kant, Bergson and Spinoza, his collaborations with Felix Guattari, and the development of a distinctively ‘Deleuzian’ conceptual framework. Marks focuses on the philosophical friendship that developed between Deleuze and Foucault and considers the full range of Deleuze’s fascinating writings on literature, art and cinema. This is a clear and concise guide to the work of one of the twentieth century’s most influential thinkers.
Today, a scientific explanation is not meant to ascribe agency to natural phenomena: we would not say a rock falls because it seeks the center of the earth. Even for living things, in the natural sciences and often in the social sciences, the same is true. A modern botanist would not say that plants pursue sunlight. This has not always been the case, nor, perhaps, was it inevitable. Since the seventeenth century, many thinkers have made agency, in various forms, central to science.
The Restless Clock examines the history of this principle, banning agency, in the life sciences. It also tells the story of dissenters embracing the opposite idea: that agency is essential to nature. The story begins with the automata of early modern Europe, as models for the new science of living things, and traces questions of science and agency through Descartes, Leibniz, Lamarck, and Darwin, among many others. Mechanist science, Jessica Riskin shows, had an associated theology: the argument from design, which found evidence for a designer in the mechanisms of nature. Rejecting such appeals to a supernatural God, the dissenters sought to naturalize agency rather than outsourcing it to a “divine engineer.” Their model cast living things not as passive but as active, self-making machines.
The conflict between passive- and active-mechanist approaches maintains a subterranean life in current science, shaping debates in fields such as evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. This history promises not only to inform such debates, but also our sense of the possibilities for what it means to engage in science—and even what it means to be alive.